Jan. 16, 2010
BY DREW EDWARDS
KNOXVILLE -- In the 72 hours between Lane Kiffin's departure and Derek Dooley's introduction as Tennessee's head coach, millions of words have filled the gap.
Over the air. On the Internet. In print. Almost nothing but talk, a lot of it idle.
"It's hard not to hear everything that's going on," senior quarterback Nick Stephens said. "I was very in tune with what's going on the last couple of days."
Stephens was also in tune with his new head coach.
And not because he can turn a phrase.
About 30 minutes before his introductory press conference - and only about 4 ½ hours after being offered the job by athletic director Mike Hamilton - Dooley spoke to his new team. His message was about more than words.
"The first thing I told the team was I'm never going to ask them to trust me, because I do think that's something that has to be earned, and it's only going to get earned in time," Dooley said.
For Tennessee's players, many still upset by the way Kiffin left on Tuesday night after just one season in Knoxville, it seemed to strike the right chord.
"He knew we were hurt and it was a bad situation," senior linebacker Nick Reveiz. "But he wasn't going to ask us for our trust and ask us to buy in right this second. He said he's going to earn that. That's pretty cool.
"I think any time you're hurt -- I'm just going to be honest, I think that's how our football team feels from what happened in the past couple days -- you're looking for someone to encourage you and tell you that things are going to be OK," Reveiz said. "And I really feel like Coach Dooley, he really portrayed that really well. He said that he was going to work. He talked about family, and that's something that we in believe in but we didn't hear as much, either."
For seniors like Reveiz and Stephens, buying into a new coach can be a little easier. But for rising sophomore tailback Bryce Brown, last year's No. 1 overall recruit according to Rivals.com and Kiffin's highest-profile signee, Dooley's approach to the initial meeting worked, too.
"I saw a lot of smiles when he said that," Brown said. "I think it's an interesting approach for him to say that. But he came in and he respects us and feels for what we've gone through. Trust is obviously a big issue that we're going to cope with.
"For him to say that and really, really put forth the sympathy for what we've gone through says a lot, and I think the players will respond to that."
Perhaps the biggest juxtapositions between Dooley and his predecessor came late in the proceedings Friday.
A radio reporter asked Dooley if he would call any Southern California recruits and ask them not to go to class, making reference to reports that previous staff members had done the same to some of the Vols' mid-term enrollees when leaving UT.
Dooley just waved his right hand.
"Look guys, if you're going to look for sound bites and things from me that's going to attack other programs and disparage people, that's just not how I am," Dooley said. "I'm worried about Tennessee. I'm worried about what we need to get our program going, and I'm going to always going to keep my focus on that.
"I think when you're worrying about somebody else, what other people are doing, then you're not taking care of your own house. We got plenty to be feeling good about in this program, and that's what we should keep our focus on. The times of worrying about what..."
Applause from donors and fans drowned out the rest of his answer.
Even though words came cheap the last few days, Dooley's seemed to find their mark on Friday. With a little Southern drawl, Dooley said he would work to earn respect, not demand it.
From the sound of things, he's already started.
"We respected that right off the bat," Stephens said. "How could you not? A guy who seems real compassionate and genuine about what he's doing and comes in and says he doesn't expect us to do anything for him. He's going to earn it all.
"That's a big deal, and we all respected that."